• Chapter 5

    The Courting of Recruits

  • If you’ve been following along in order, we’ve talked about learning to read the recruiting game and how exposure really works, and how to start to get in contact with coaches. In this chapter we talk about the twists and turns of those dialogs, and some of the rules the NCAA has put in place to keep recruiting fair.

    NCAA Rules of Contact

    High-school athletes may contact college whenever they want, without restriction. However, the NCAA lays out strict rules for how and when college coaches can contact athletes. These rules vary by sport and NCAA division, and change frequently.
    The NCAA creates these rules in order to keep a degree of fairness in the recruiting process, and to mitigate intrusions into the lives of high-school athletes.

    The NCAA defines recruiting as “any solicitation of prospective student-athletes or their parents by an institutional staff member or by a representative of the institution’s athletics interests for the purpose of securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment and ultimate participation in the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program.”
    The rules that govern coaches contact with high school athletes are set in the context of recruiting calendars divided into four periods:


    1. Evaluation Period - Coaches can watch an athlete compete, but cannot communicate with him.
    2. Contact Period - Any form of contact permitted.  Coaches are allowed to meet with athletes and their families at school or at home.
    3. Dead Period - College coaches not allowed to talk to athletes or their families, but may communicate via email or mail.
    4. Quiet Period - College coaches not allowed to meet face-to-face with recruits.
    The duration and timing of each period varies by sport and NCAA division, and is generally more lax in the lower divisions than Division I. You can find the complete rules, by division and sport, on the NCAA website

    At the end of the day, don’t get too caught up in the rules of contact. They’re there for a good reason, but coaches know the rules and they’ll generally try to make it easy on you. Generally speaking, if they want to talk to you, they’ll find a way.

    Official Visits

    When a coach is interested in you, he may extend an invitation to visit campus and spend time with the team. If the coach offers to pay for the visit, it’s an official visit, although how much the coach is allowed to pay for varies by division. For example, a Division I coach can pick up the tab for the entire visit, whereas in Division-III coach may offer on-campus housing, meal coupons, and a ride to and from the airport. 


    Timing of official visits is subject to NCAA rules as well. An athlete may only make an official visit after the first day of his senior year of high school.

    Getting an explicit invitation for an official visit from a college coach is a clear sign that he is very interested in you, and may be preparing to offer you a spot on the team or a scholarship. He wants to meet you face-to-face, and to give you an opportunity to meet the team, watch a practice, and get a feel for the school.

    Receiving an Offer

    The timing of an offer varies widely by division and by the desirability of the athlete. Nationally recruited players may be offered a scholarship by a BCS program junior year or possibly even sophomore year or - in exceptionally rare cases - even earlier, in order to get them committed early.

    But most scholarships are offered during the athlete’s senior year in high school. It is not unusual to receive a scholarship offer while on an official visit, depending on the timing of the visit. If the offer comes during a window of time when college coaches are not allowed to contact athletes, he might send word through the athlete’s high school coach that he’d like to make an offer, so the coach can pass that word along and the athlete can call the college coach back, since he can contact the college coach anytime.

    When the offer comes, it may or may not come with a timeframe. In some cases - perhaps early in the process or you are very high on the coach’s list - the coach might tell you to take your time making your decision. On the other hand, it is not unusual for an offer to include a deadline for you to make a decision. Often times, college coaches need to know relatively quickly whether you will accept, because they have someone else they will make the same offer to if you turn it down. If you are expecting other offers and need more time than the coach making your the offer gives you, ask the coach for an extension so you can compare your offers.

    If the school making the offer is a Division-III school, there will be no athletic scholarship coming with it. Some coaches may offer a spot on the team, assuming the player later gets accepted at the school. However, the benefits to the athlete of accepting such an offer - and thus taking themselves off the market - are dubious. Many athletes who receive multiple such offers will apply to multiple schools and wait and see where they get in and what the financial aid packages and academic scholarships look like before making a final decision in the spring of their senior year. Some D-III coaches, recognizing this reality, simply encourage their recruits to take their time with their decision and walk on if they come to the school.

    Commitments and National Letters of Intent

    Although a coach may give you a verbal offer of a scholarship, no offer is binding until you receive it in writing. If you receive an offer from a Division I or II school, the coach will send you a National Letter of Intent, which you must sign during the signing period, which starts on National Signing Day in the Spring, although you don’t have to sign the letter on that day, just during the signing period. Once the letter is signed, the scholarship is binding for your first year of college.

    If after you sign a National Letter of Intent, you are committed to that school. If after that, you change your mind and decide you’d rather accept an offer to play elsewhere - and you’re absolutely sure about this - you should contact the coach at the school you’re already committed to immediately. Explain to him your situation. In most cases, he will “release” you, freeing you up to accept the other school’s offer. But if the coach decides not to release you, you are forbidden from playing in the NCAA for one year. Needless to say, be very careful about committing, and once you do, think carefully before you decide to change your mind.

    Playing Football at a Top Academic College

    We encourage students with excellent academic performance - in addition to football ability - to consider including some top-tier academic schools in their target list. After all, you are in college to get an education. Football will end someday, yet your education will pay dividends your entire life. The education you receive is the one thing no one will ever be able to take away from you. Utilizing your talent in football to get a tip-tier education is an excellent life strategy.

    Make no mistake: it’s possible to get an excellent education at just about any school; much of that is up to you, the student. However, attending one of the nation’s top academic schools carries certain unique benefits. You will be attending school with an extraordinary and diverse group of classmates. You’ll be pushed to new heights academically. You’ll gain advantages in the job market or grad school admissions owing to your college’s academic reputation. And there’s no denying the lifetime value of the network you will build while attending one of these schools.

    Some of the biggest names in college football are also exceptionally strong schools academically. Notre Dame, Stanford, Northwestern, Duke, Michigan, Cal, UCLA, Virginia, and others. These schools play at the Division-I FBS level. But schools with top-tier academics are represented at all levels of play - from FBS, FCS, D-II, and D-III.

    By and large, football programs at top-tier academic colleges operate within the same NCAA offer/Letter of Intent framework we’ve described above, albeit with higher academic standards for their recruits. Two exceptions, the Ivy League and the NESCAC, operate a little differently, and so warrant their own discussion.

    The Ivy League and the NESCAC

    The Ivy League is made up of eight outstanding schools: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, Penn, and Cornell. Not only is each of these schools top notch academically, they are very difficult to gain admission into. For example, Harvard’s acceptance rate this year was 5.9%, Yale was 6.3%, Brown 8.6%.

    These eight schools decided as a group decades ago that in order to keep their focus on academics, they would not offer any athletic scholarships. The Ivy League is D-I FCS, and while there are great intra-Ivy football rivalries (Harvard-Yale, Princeton-Penn,...), the Ivy League is not known as a NFL prospect factory. This is partly due to the lack of scholarships - top scholar athletes often wind up at a Stanford or a Notre Dame - and partly due to the exceptionally challenging admissions standards.

    But for an excellent athlete who is also an excellent student who would like to prioritize academics over playing at the highest level possible, the Ivy League can be an interesting option. In lieu of scholarships, Ivy League coaches can offer “likely letters” to recruits. If an Ivy League coach wants you, he can get the admissions department to do a “pre-read” of your academic and extracurricular credentials ahead of the early admissions cycle and get a thumbs up or down from the admissions office.

    With a thumbs up, the school can issue you a likely letter, which says that you’re likely to be admitted if you apply. In other words, the coaches at Ivy League schools have some influence in the admissions office for the short list of players they’d like to get on the team. So if you’re interested in getting a terrific education at an Ivy League school, football could be your admission ticket.

    The Ivy League is a terrific mix of strong athletic programs and outstanding academics, but it is not the only league offering this combination. The NESCAC, or New England Small College Athletic Conference, is a highly competitive Division-III athletic conference made up of eleven esteemed liberal arts colleges in the Northeast that many consider to be academically on par with the Ivy League, including Williams, Amherst, Colby, Middlebury, Hamilton, and Bowdoin. Although the terminology is a little different, NESCAC schools follow a system of “slots” with admissions influence very similar to the Ivy League’s likely letters.

    One unique aspect of playing a varsity sport in the NESCAC - and in fact at many liberal arts schools around the country - is the relatively high percentage of students at these schools who play a varsity sport for the college. With a full slate of perhaps thirty varsity sports drawing from a total student population of only 1,500 to 2,500, you commonly see 30% to 40% of students at these colleges playing a varsity sport, which gives these schools a unique athletic culture with traditions and rivalries going back decades and in some cases over a hundred years.


    For students interested an academically strong school, as well as an enjoyable, competitive football experience, there are many options beyond these two excellent leagues at the D-I, D-II, and D-III level. And the good news is that many of these schools - including the vast majority of colleges in both the Ivy League and NESCAC - follow need-blind admissions and offer exceptional financial aid packages to students who are admitted and need help affording the cost of attendance.

    The Importance of Strong Academics

    A strong academic record carries importance in the recruiting process for a number of reasons. College coaches are not interested recruiting athletes who don’t show ambition in the classroom. Working hard at school is just as much a sign of your character as working hard on the field.

    To receive a scholarship, your grade point average must meet the minimum standards for the NCAA. The NCAA combines GPA and SAT or ACT scores, so the lower your GPA is, the higher you must score on the SAT or ACT to meet the standard. You can read more about the NCAA’s minimum academic requirements here: Division-I Requirements, Division-II Requirements.

    Many colleges have higher standards than the NCAA minimum. Schools like Cal, Stanford, Notre Dame, Duke, Georgia Tech, and many, many more are rigorous schools and require their athletes to be prepared to do well in their classes as well as on the field. Your GPA gives the coach and admissions department a way gauge your preparedness. The Ivy League and NESCAC each use their own cross-league standard formulas to ensure athletes are within a certain range of the average for the school’s overall population.

    At some schools, a high GPA can also open up opportunities to earn academic scholarships. At a D-I or D-II school, an academic scholarship can usually be combined with a partial athletic scholarship. At D-III schools, earning an academic scholarship is a terrific way to reduce the cost of attendance in lieu of an athletic scholarship which those schools are not allowed to offer.

    If you are borderline academically, your athletic performance and desirability could be the clincher. But be very careful. If you slip below the minimum threshold, your scholarship and admission to the school could both be rescinded. We know many sad stories of athletes who were offered a scholarship prior to the start of their senior year, only to have it rescinded after their senior year, all because a bad case of senioritis allowed their grades to slide. Don’t let that happen to you.

  • Learn how college coaches approach recruiting, evaluate you, and make offer decisions.

    There are a lot of myths and misinformation floating around. Don't be misled.

    Recruiting has changed in the last decade. Learn how it works today and how to read whether a coach is really interested.

    ID camps, combines, 7-on-7s, profile exposure services,... Learn what matters, what doesn't, and what could hurt your chances.

    The inside scoop on NCAA rules of contact, official visits, receiving offers, and making commitments.

    Our coaches share the 10 steps every athlete should take to get recruited. Receive this chapter when you apply to participate in a recruiting program.

  • We are AthleticOutlook, a community of experienced college coaches who work personally with high school athletes and their families to help them improve recruiting outcomes and save money in the process.

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